On February 4th, 2010, the McStay family disappeared from their home in Southern California, never to be seen alive again.
This remained a mysterious missing persons case until the remains of Joseph and Summer McStay, along with their two children, Gianni and Joseph Jr. aged 4 and 3 respectively, were discovered buried in two shallow graves in the middle of the California desert 3 years after their disappearance.
The initial theory that the family had fled across the boarder to Mexico was backed by the placement of the family car, which was found parked at the boarder, and Google searches on their family computer, for Charles "Chase" Merritt had planned it that way.
Merritt, in fact, was the last person to have any contact with Mr. McStay when the latter attempted to leave a voice mail for his business associate, which was not returned. Under the guise of their flight, Merritt took full advantage of his business partner's absence. In the days following the disappearance, he withdrew nearly $21,000 from McStay's business account—much of which was immediately gambled away, began to spread rumors about the couple and even promised a tell-all book about the family in which he was going to "reveal" many unsubstantiated claims that the couple was unhappy and the family dysfunctional.
All of this went unbeknownst to authorities until the bodies were discovered.
Clearly not having fled the country, Merritt became the prime subject in the family's murders based on evidence that Summer McStay had been raped prior to her death, the whole family had been bludgeoned to death in their own home and Merritt's behavior immediately after the McStays' disappearance. He was arrested in November of 2014 and charged with 4 counts of murder with special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty, to which he plead not guilty, and was detained without bail in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Prosecution later attributed his motive to the fact that McStay intended to cut out his partner from their water feature business before his death.
Merritt made the trial far from an easy process for the grieving families. There were many bumps along the road, like firing his attorneys multiple times and attempting to represent himself. A member of the defense was even accused of jury tampering.
Despite these setbacks, the jury deliberated for 6 days at the end of June before finding him guilty of 4 counts of first-degree murder and recommending the death penalty, though he will return to court in September for sentencing.